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The best apps for taking notes

Joel Mathis | Sept. 3, 2014
Man, it's a great time to be a note-taker.

There's a reason Evernote (free; iOS and Android) is generally thought of as a best-in-class note-taker: It's the best in class, and it easily surpassed my desires in each of the three criteria I was judging by:

Versatility: I took my iPad to a morning breaking-news conference and fired up the app. I typed in notes during the question-and-answer portion of the presser, used the app to take pictures of charts displayed during the event, and after it was over used the microphone to record a quick on-the-spot interview with one of the participants. Shifting between functions was seamless: I just clicked the "Add Attachment" button in the upper right-hand corner, chose which medium to operate in, and moved on from there. Easy as pie.

Great organization: This didn't matter so much at the press conference, but Evernote is easily — and endlessly — organizable. You can create notebooks to cover broad topics, and then create individual notes in each. Plus, you can tag the notes, to further refine your searches and your overall ability to find your information later.

Accessibility: When the press conference was over, I put my iPad away, rushed back to the office, fired up my computer, and immediately opened Evernote on the Web: Everything was right there — and would've been if I'd tried accessing it on Android or a Windows computer, too. (I could also have downloaded Evernote for Mac, but I hadn't done that. In any case, I'd rather shift back and forth between browser tabs than shift between apps; your own mileage may vary.) The story was finished within about 30 minutes. That's efficiency, folks.

If there's a drawback, it's that the free account limits you to 60 MB of uploads per month: Power users beware. But upgrading to a premium account — and up to 1 GB of data uploads per month — costs just $45 a year.

The runner-up: Simplenote

No, this app isn't nearly as versatile as Evernote. Simplenote (free; iOS and Android) — as the name implies — is simple. You write stuff down, and that's it.

Then again, the vast majority of the note taking I do is just writing stuff down. And one person's versatility can be another person's clutter can be another person's app overstuffed with features.

When it comes down to it, Simplenote isn't that stripped down — and it's certainly an improvement in several ways over the native iOS Notes app: For one thing, cut-and-paste quotes are stripped of coding, so everything you paste and type has the same, simple text-style font and format. And you can tag each note as much as you want, making organization a snap.


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